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Elderly weight gain: Techniques for helping your loved one stay healthy

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Older people may unintentionally lose weight for a variety of different reasons. This can cause them to fall below a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI), which poses a risk to their overall wellbeing.

These reasons include:

1) Change in circumstances

A major change in circumstances - such as moving into a new environment, the loss of independence or a bereavement - can cause depression or disorientation, which could act as a catalyst for weight loss.

2) Illness and medications

Illnesses and their respective treatments can cause weight loss due to lack of appetite, depression, or the side effects of medication. This could result in a food aversion that persists beyond the duration of the illness.

3) Physiological changes

A variety of physiological changes happen to us as we get older that can contribute towards weight loss, including:

  • Loss of lean body mass and muscle
  • Slowing metabolism
  • Increase in the hormone that causes fullness
  • Declining sense of taste and smell

4) Eating difficulties

Dental problems and difficulty swallowing can also make the eating process harder, potentially causing an eating aversion and/or limiting the types of food an older person is able to consume.

Elderly weight gain: tips and advice

Help support elderly weight gain and keep your loved one healthy by:

  • Encouraging them to eat small meals and snacks regularly throughout the day, rather than attempting to eat three large meals
  • Keeping a ready supply of healthy snacks (e.g. dried fruits and unsalted nuts) within easy reach around the home
  • Avoiding foods containing high levels of sugar or saturated fats, as these are full of empty calories
  • Increasing their intake of full-fat milk or cheese; try adding these ingredients to meals or drinks they already consume regularly
  • Helping them take on more high-energy foods that are rich in calories, such as nuts, beans, pulses, porridge, olive oil and pasta
  • Making eating a social activity to help them overcome aversions and re-gain positive associations of meal times
  • Ensuring they have access to meals that require minimal preparation; try making a batch of their favourites in advance and storing them in the freezer, or help them access meal provision services
  • Recommending a spot of light exercise (e.g. a walk around the park) to help them build up their appetite
  • Talking to a trained medical professional about any additional steps they could take to reach and maintain a healthy weight

Promote elderly weight gain and help your loved one improve both their health and wellbeing by following these simple steps.

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